Attempted murder is a victimless crime

By definition, there are no murder victims.

Suppose you board a bus with a suicide bomber. At the appointed stop, the suicide bomber pulls the cord to detonate the belt of explosives around her waist, hidden under her jacket … and nothing happens. She lives to die another day. No one on the bus, including you, is any the wiser. There are no victims that day. But a crime has been committed. Attempted murder is a serious crime. A victimless crime, but a serious crime, nonetheless.

If you drive home blind drunk at 150 kph, with your children unseatbelted in the back and passenger seats, and you’re fortunate enough that there is no oncoming traffic on the several occasions when you veer into the other lane … and you and your children arrive home safely … it’s a victimless crime. But a crime has been committed. Driving while drunk is a crime. A victimless crime, but a crime, nonetheless.

There are obvious differences between the two cases. The suicide bomber intends to initiate lethal force against others, and the odds of success are relatively high. Whereas the drunk driver does not have murderous intent, and the odds of killing anyone are relatively low.

There are laws against attempted murder and laws against drunk driving. As there should be. But why?

Some libertarians get themselves into a tangle trying to justify a prohibition on drunk driving. At first glance, the non-initiation of force (NIOF) principle seems insufficient to justify a law against drunk driving. The drunk driver who arrives home safely does not, and does not intend to, initiate force against other road users. A common libertarian perspective is one where drunk driving is seen as a breach of contract between the road user and the road owner. In a libertarian utopia, roads are privately owned, and the road owner sets the terms of road use. When it’s in the commercial interests of road owners to offer safe passage to road users (as, almost invariably, it will be), sobriety will be a contractual obligation. Take this perspective, and you get the right answer … but for the wrong reason.

Drunk driving is wrong, not because it is a breach of contract (implicit in the case of our state-operated roads), but because it endangers the lives of others. It’s really quite simple. There ought to be a law against drunk driving because there ought to be a law against endangering the lives of others.

Provisos apply.

Please note carefully. In cases where it is other adults only whose lives are endangered, and those adults have consented to having their lives endangered, no laws should apply.

Roads are dangerous places. When I go for a drive, I’m endangering my own life and that of others, simply by being behind the wheel, sober or otherwise. But there ought to be no law against driving per se, even though such a law would dramatically lower the road toll. But why not?

It’s really quite simple. It’s a matter of degree. The question is, where to draw the line? And the answer is, at 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.

The above figure is arbitrary, and blood alcohol level is only a proxy for driver impairment, but this approach to endangerment is right in principle. Importantly, we can quantify the risk that a driver who has been drinking poses to other road users. We can multiply the chances of a fatal collision by the number of lives lost in the collision and come up with a number. And we can set a threshold. If the number is over the threshold, you’re too drunk to legally drive. If the number is below the threshold, it’s legal to risk getting behind the wheel.

We can apply the principle of an endangerment threshold to other issues, including the issue of parents endangering the lives of their children: allowing their children to climb trees, be vaccinated, be unvaccinated, ride bikes without helmets, travel to dangerous countries, sail, eat food cooked on an unlicensed Komodo Kamado or have their children live with them in Lyttelton houses in danger of being flattened by falling boulders.

In all cases, the same endangerment threshold should apply. Is the risk of staying with your children in your Lyttelton house more or less than driving them to safety after you’ve had one drink too many?

And one last question. Who gets to decide?

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20 Responses to Attempted murder is a victimless crime

  1. Reed says:

    What about when parents refuse life saving treatment for their child?

    Does this situation give you the authority you need to save the child?

  2. Reed says:

    Any attempted crime should be considered a crime. Intent makes the difference – not success.

    Even absurd road rules are justified (by ownership) – so sensible road rules are justified.

  3. Richard says:

    Does this situation give you the authority you need to save the child?

    Yes.

  4. Richard says:

    Even absurd road rules are justified (by ownership) – so sensible road rules are justified.

    An example of an absurd road rule is: Don’t drive unless drunk. Such a rule does not justify driving drunk with your children unseatbelted in the back and passenger seats.

  5. Reed says:

    An example of an absurd road rule is: Don’t drive unless drunk. Such a rule does not justify driving drunk with your children unseatbelted in the back and passenger seats.
    Presumably you are joking (or smoking). 🙂

    It reminds me of someone trying to convince me of a particular doctrine by the following reasoning…

    The things of the spirit are foolishness to man.
    X is foolishness to man.
    Therefore, X is spiritual.

    An absurd idea currently under consideration, and justifiable by appealing to ownership, is for new drivers to have a log book and record their journeys.

    FYI: As a child I used to sit on the spare tyre in the back of our station wagon.

  6. Reed says:

    richard
    Are you consequentialist?

  7. Richard says:

    Reed, your argument seems to be that sensible road rules are justified because absurd road rules are justified, and for the same reason (by ownership). But this won’t do.

    I said that an absurd road rule (justified by ownership), viz., Don’t drive unless drunk, does not justify driving drunk with your children unseatbelted in the back and passenger seats. But that’s not what I meant to say. 🙂

    What I meant to say was that the absence of a sensible road rule (justified by ownership), viz., Don’t drink and drive, does not justify driving drunk with your children unseatbelted in the back and passenger seats.

    Regardless of the rules made by the road owner, it is wrong to endanger the lives of one’s children by driving while drunk, and there ought to be a law against it.

    FYI: As a child I used to sit on the spare tyre in the back of our station wagon.

    With all due respect, Reed … did you mean stationary wagon? I hope so.

  8. Richard says:

    Am I a consequentialist? Meta-ethically speaking, I’m a Divine Command theorist. But the lesser of two evils is still lesser.

  9. Reed says:

    Reed, your argument seems to be that sensible road rules are justified because absurd road rules are justified, and for the same reason (by ownership).

    My argument is that road rules are justified by ownership.

    Some libertarians get themselves into a tangle trying to justify a prohibition on drunk driving. At first glance, the non-initiation of force (NIOF) principle seems insufficient to justify a law against drunk driving.

    You can not fly on Air NZ without shoes – they told me I had to put on shoes before I could board the plane. The reason given for the rule was “Safety” – I’m not sure if it was to prevent me from stubbing my toes or to protect my feet in the event that I have to climb over burning plane wreckage/corpses. Either way the rule is absurd.

    This is an example of an absurd rule justifiable by ownership. No libertarian should get into a tangle trying to justify this absurd rule – it’s justifiable by ownership.
    By contrast, drink driving rules are sensible and justifiable by road ownership. No libertarian should get into a tangle trying to justify this sensible rule – it’s justifiable by ownership.

    I wasn’t expecting you to contest the idea that absurd rules are justifiable by ownership. I shouldn’t have mentioned absurdity.

  10. Richard says:

    Reed, I’m not contesting the idea that absurd rules are justifiable by ownership. Of course, they are.

    My argument is that some road rules are justifiable by things other than ownership.

  11. Reed says:

    … the lesser of two evils is still lesser.
    I’m not sure what you mean by this but… the lesser of two evils is still evil.

    Reed, I’m not contesting the idea that absurd rules are justifiable by ownership. Of course, they are.
    Ok, Sorry.

    My argument is that some road rules are justifiable by things other than ownership.
    Yes, but in this case aren’t you appealing to (potential) consequences for justification?

    Potential consequences provides a reason for rules but not justification for imposing rules on others.

  12. Richard says:

    aren’t you appealing to (potential) consequences for justification? … Potential consequences provides a reason for rules but not justification for imposing rules on others.

    When the potential consequences include significantly probable harm to non-consenting others (e.g., other road users, one’s own children) then I think that is justification for imposing safety rules. Do you not? Do you think I am unlibertarian?!

  13. Reed says:

    Do you think I am unlibertarian?!
    Does it matter? Libertarianism is no virtue. 🙂

    When the potential consequences include significantly probable harm to non-consenting others (e.g., other road users, one’s own children) then I think that is justification for imposing safety rules. Do you not?

    I have heard the same argument used to try and justify drug prohibition.
    Would this argument justify drug prohibition?
    Why not? 😉

  14. Richard says:

    Would this argument justify drug prohibition? Why not?

    In theory, yes. In practice, no. 🙂

    In all cases, the same endangerment threshold should apply. Which poses the greatest risk to others – walking down the road smoking a joint, or driving down the road after having had one drink too many?

  15. Reed says:

    I think your position is the following…

    If a person’s actions have great enough potential consequences to others then that justifies assuming authority over that person.

    I think this is unchristian. I also think it is consequentialist.

  16. Richard says:

    If a person’s actions have great enough potential expected adverse consequences to others then that justifies assuming authority over that person.

    Yes, my position is consequentialist.

    Of course, I would like to know why you think my position is unchristian.

  17. Reed says:

    Of course, I would like to know why you think my position is unchristian.

    Regulating beyond your authority is unjust – it’s like theft.
    This is what I think is the Christian perspective. . .

    Ex 21:28 – 32
    If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.

    Actual consequences. Ownership (or authority). Awareness. Failure to remedy. Punishment.

    Applying this to the possibly unstable land…
    The Christchurch Council owns the possibly unstable land.
    The Christchurch Council believes their land is dangerous to its neighbours.
    The Christchurch Council is failing to remedy the dangerous land under its authority.
    The Christchurch Council should be responsible for any damage caused. (One problem with NZ law is that officials are immune from prosecution.) The council should make it stable, sell it or the individuals responsible should be punished for the consequences of their inaction.

    The neighbour is not culpable, he lacks awareness (he believes there’s no danger) and he lacks the authority to remedy the situation.

  18. Richard says:

    Reed, thanks. Thought-provoking, as usual. 🙂

    It might take a whole new post, but I’ll get back to you.

  19. Richard says:

    Reed … or you could get back to me. 🙂

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